On June 9, an eight-month-old original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of laptop computers based in Thiruvananthapuram witnessed its website crashing after traffic surged to levels its servers could not handle, driven primarily by institutional buyers seeking alternatives to Chinese products. “We are receiving enquiries for our products from all over India … there is a big sentiment towards anything that is made in India. We have been getting specific queries about how much of our product is made in China,” said Sreejith Nair, COO of Coconics Pvt Ltd. The company is a joint-venture between the Kerala government, which holds 49 per cent stake through its entities Keltron and Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC), and private companies UST Global and Acceleron Labs, which hold 51 per cent stake.
The sharp increase in queries for Coconics’ products has been a function of rising interest among various government agencies and bodies towards India-made goods as well as a shift towards online education and work from home in aftermath of the nationwide lockdown imposed to contain COVID-19 outbreak. A report by KPMG and Google titled ‘Online Education in India: 2021’ even pegged the laptop as a preferred device for consumption of online education in India across almost every category, including casual learning, primary and secondary education, test preparation, and higher education. Among device preferences, laptops were followed by smartphone.
Experts believe the shift in behavioural patterns towards greater consumption of e-learning content could drive sales of personal computers (PCs), especially laptops, which have been on a downturn for the past few years with most use-cases being sufficed on smartphones.
“The buying power of Indians is still comparatively lower than the US or China, which have very high penetration of PCs. In India, only 11 per cent of households have a PC as of now … What COVID-19 has done is that people are becoming comfortable learning online … they are taking tuition classes online, they are getting comfortable enrolling for courses online. This is something that will give an overall boost to the PC segment in the long term,” International Data Corporation’s (IDC) associate research manager Jaipal Singh, who has been tracking the India devices market for the last five years, told The Indian Express. He pointed out that most use-cases such financial services, entertainment, etc are met through smartphones, but newer use-cases like online learning are developing and are expected to buck the trend for PC makers.
As per latest available data from IDC, India’s traditional PC market inclusive of desktops, notebooks, and workstations fell 16.7 per cent year-on-year during January-March 2020, with a total of 1.8 million shipments. Laptops, particularly, saw a 16.8 per cent fall due to significant contractions in the consumer and education segments in the first quarter of 2020. The private sector, however, posted better shipment numbers with companies advising their employees to work from home in March. Further, in anticipation of a nationwide lockdown, many businesses had increased their orders for notebooks, which resulted in a 7.1 per cent on-year increase for this segment.
“The personal computing market has two main demand components — commercial and consumer. For April-June 2020 quarter, in commercial we have seen very strong uptake from large enterprises because lot of these companies were thinking about business continuity. A lot of their employees were stuck at home and they had a mobility device where they could work. These companies went for immediate buying of personal computers. On consumer side, a lot of people are going for e-learning, online education, which is also an immediate requirement. But on the consumer side, we lost close to six weeks in April-June, when there were hardly any supplies or sales happening at the time,” Singh said.
However, given the lower disposable incomes in India, Singh believes government support through various public initiatives will be fundamental for the penetration of personal computers to increase in the country. He cited the example of a scheme by the Tamil Nadu government, under which, last year the state distributed 16 lakh Lenovo laptops, which caused a temporary upsurge in India’s personal computer shipment numbers.
According to Nair, this is where a company like Coconics is aiming to fill the gap. “In the first few months of operation, we managed to sell close to 4,000 laptops to the state government, IT companies, engineering colleges and we were poised to go into the B2B and B2C market. Then the whole COVID19 situation started and now our aim is to target the education sector, which is really opening up,” he said, adding that till date about 80-90 per cent of the company’s output has been shipped to government agencies or institutions.
Coconics, which is now looking to participate in national tenders as well post the Centre’s missive to its agencies of preferring local MSMEs for procurements under Rs 200 crore, is now working to bring out sub-Rs 15,000 laptops for the education market. “When you think about laptops, people think about something above Rs 30,000 but we are targeting something below Rs 15,000. School-going children do not need heavy specifications like 1TB storage, etc. We have designed our products in such a way that they are affordable and have all the necessary features,” Nair said.
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